Get a bunch of cloud accounting experts in a room, and there’ll be plenty of differing opinions about the pace of change among CPA firms and its implications. That’s essentially what Bob Scott of Progressive Accountant did in a recent special report about the cloud, in which he interviewed a cross-section of leaders in the profession, including our president and CEO, Erik Asgeirsson.
There is one area of consensus, Bob found: “There is no doubt that Internet-based software is fundamentally changing organizations and how they conduct business.”
At CPA.com, we agree. We think cloud tools and other emerging technologies make client accounting services a phenomenal growth opportunity for firms, and Progressive Accountant found evidence of the same.
CliftonLarsonAllen, for example, is using our partner Intacct to offer outsourced financial management and accounting services, which has made it easier to step up to larger midmarket companies as clients. “Cloud computing has helped CliftonLarsonAllen change its services from offering write-up to providing more sophisticated outsourced services and is helping it move into the international market,” the Progressive Accountant said.
The end goal for CPA firms is to elevate their game to a higher-value, advisory role with clients, such as outsourced CFO and controller services. Bob Scott raises an interesting question about this: Do CPAs have the right temperament to engage more collaboratively with clients?
Erik says there’s no doubt they do, but there’s a lot more groundwork to be done to make that trusted business advisor relationship work.
“The first step is making sure the advisory skills are where they need to be,” he told the publication. ”Do I have the right pricing strategy? You need to think about the staffing of your firm and how you go about processing your workflow.”
As Erik often says, technology is only part of a Digital CPA practice – and it’s the easy part. CPA firms that want to take advantage of cloud tools and develop better collaboration with their clients need to evaluate their strengths and expertise, review all their business processes and come up with a comprehensive game plan. If you need some advice on how to do that, browse through CPA.com – we’ve got the resources to help you take the next step forward.
Recently we had the opportunity to speak with a firm, Consero Global Solutions, about their success in client advisory services and the Austin, Tex.-based company shared some key takeaways.
Observations about Clients
1) “Most businesses are not equipped to handle complex accounting and bookkeeping work on their own,” said Bill Klein, president of Concero Global Solutions, noting that some professional accounting firms aren’t interested in building out the infrastructure for clients, either.
2) Some clients are willing to leave their current firm due to lack of access to technology. When an accounting firm makes the process too manual, such as requiring clients to physically sign payroll checks and refer only to printed financial documents, simply demonstrating a more productive workflow can win a new client.
What You Need to Succeed
“Operating within an end-to-end digital workflow, Consero continues to improve operations across the board and build an impressive client list,” Klein said. He stressed the importance of finding the right technology and standardizing the firm’s platform to achieve productivity improvements for both his business and his clients.
Take a Timeout for Your Own Planning
1) When was the last time you asked your clients, or key clients you would like to have, what things they really dislike doing? How can you leverage your skills and expertise to build the infrastructure and a service line to support those clients and build a new profit center?
2) When was the last time you looked at what you are asking your clients to do manually? Have you kept those processes out of habit? Many technology tools have matured to give you and your client ease of use and time saving features to make the collaboration easier.
3) When was the last time you looked at technology available today to fuel ideas on how your services and processes can improve? Cloud technology has genuinely transformed client accounting work today to be client advisory. Are you looking at the potential for this at your firm?
You don’t have to do this exercise on your own. This is why CPA.com shares stories like Consero’s and holds events like the Digital CPA Conference. If you would like to read more on what technology Consero found was the best fit for building this service line, check out the Success Story. If the technology is something you have particular interest in at this year’s Digital CPA Conference, a practitioner, a consultant from Intacct and a CPA.com Strategic Accountant Manager are teaching a class on how to build an optimal client accounting workflow system.
What observations do you have about clients today that’s making you think you should change up your service? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you.
School is back in session. The summer fun and carefree days are behind us. Leaves are beginning to change and bare their autumn colors here in the Midwest as the air gets crisper and cooler. The fall season has historically been a great time to refocus and get down to business on so many levels - including your firm! This is why we hear of so many firms investing their time on working on their business this time of year – from scheduled partner retreats to one on one professional meetings among peers – this is the perfect time to reset, re-engage and tweak your business plans to advance your journey to becoming true Digital CPA’s!
As you break away to work on your firm, don’t forget to engage in a thorough review of how you are meeting your client needs currently. We are hearing that clients are looking for business intelligence insight at higher and higher levels to meet an ever increasing, complex business environment – insight that we as a profession are uniquely equipped to deliver on. Be sure you are gauging your firm’s ability to meet and exceed your clients’ expectations. Adopting client advisory services that are truly collaborative, cloud based and have a view to the future are great ways to approach this need.
This new model may necessitate adopting new processes, new tools and new ways to staff and communicate with your clients. While daunting at first glance, a well-designed business plan can enable your firm to make sizeable gains to stepping to the plate to meet and exceed your clients’ expectations while also realizing great new value added revenue streams well into the future.
Whatever your plan to work on your firm is - be sure to take advantage of this perfect time to work on your business and advance your journey! You don’t have to go it alone. Leverage conferences, workshops and communities to share ideas with other practitioners that have forged these paths and willing to share their lessons and successes. If you are looking for some available options view www.cpa.com, www.digitalcpa.com and www.aicpa.org .
I am honored to have the opportunity to present Selecting Vertical Markets in a Digital World at the Illinois CPA Society's 2014 Midwest Accounting and Finance Showcase at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on Thursday, August 28th. This is such a timely topic in today's digital world, and one I have been especially focused on over the last couple years.
The key is to be specific in your specialty to reach the right audience. Depending on the industry you choose you may need to narrow your focus even further. This is why Maribel Torres-Pinero, CPA and I are teaching a class specifically on the Not for Profit segment to take a deep dive into the needs and specifics of this popular niche at AICPA & CPA.com's Digital CPA Conference. The reporting requirements and the level of hand holding they need can vary greatly from a charitable organization to a municipality. Think about the how the chosen industry will benefit most from your service.
If you haven't begun analyzing the industries that you can serve not just well, but with exceptional levels of expertise, I encourage you to take advantage of sessions like what Illinois CPA Society is offering, and start leveraging the specialized skills and knowledge in your office. What questions do you have about focusing on a vertical?
I was recently reviewing my presentation that was made to internal management three years ago when we started down the road of the Digital CPA practice. Our original goal of this presentation was to pick a standard software platform to utilize in our Outsourcing practice – highlighted were the following points:
Software as a Service (SaaS) – 24/7 access to real time data, no capital costs, faster implementation
Client Information Management – The system would provide real time visibility, access to client data from a single centralized location and paperless processing of bills and electronic payments
Modular Scalability – Add functionality, users and reports as needed
Marketing Opportunity – Accounting firms were not in this space at the time
CPA.com, technology subsidiary of the AICPA, Approved – Intacct and Bill.com were named preferred financial applications
Outsourcing Service Standardization – Standard client setups, reporting and processes
Value Pricing - Standardization of services allows a more uniform approach to the client
What I realize now is that many of these were external opportunities for the firm and the clients that we were servicing – these have helped us to offer better client experiences - we give clients what they need and not try to teach them accounting – this also allows a deeper relationship with the clients because we are working with them in real-time.
Fesnak Outsourcing has now seen the internal opportunities and benefits as well. When we were working with multiple software systems:
we were often times maintaining various internal and external licenses and versions,
reorienting ourselves each time we transitioned to a new client
installing software when a new staff was working on a client.
Now that we have one platform:
staff are able to easily transition from one client to the next,
train incoming staff on our standard processes
work at a higher level.
We have also found that with one platform the staff have a deeper knowledge of this system and are being proactive with new processes and procedures to increase efficiencies. Finally, we have cleaner desks and emptier file cabinets, no more posted paper checks that need to be filed, paper payables that need to be processed or check stock and envelopes for each of our clients.
We encouraged our staff to be part of the process of moving to a digital practice; they were the best voice when it came to processes, procedures and efficiencies. They continue to help us to realize the internal opportunities as we are working on the external opportunities. Going deeper into these types of topics is what I enjoy doing at the CPA.com Client Accounting Services Workshops. Hope to see some of you at the August Workshop in New York at the CPA.com and AICPA Headquarters.
Nicole M. Ksiazek, CPA is Senior Manager at Fesnak & Associates, LLP. Nicole is member of the Advisory Board for the CPA.com and AICPA Digital CPA Conference.